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5 arguments you will likely hear from defense attorneys in truck cases

Written by Steve Gursten Posted July 1st, 2014

Tips for plaintiffs lawyers on how defense attorneys may admit liability to omit evidence of truck company negligence

truck accident liability

I’ve now litigated well over 300 truck and bus accident cases in my own career, and I’ve seen some smart defense attorneys over the years who’ve pulled out every trick in the book in defending these cases.

One of the most common defense tactics is to admit liability at some point before trial, so a defense attorney can later move to exclude all the evidence of the trucking company’s acts of negligence at trial. The thinking goes that liability drives damages, and if they can sweep the acts of negligence and wrongdoing under the rug, that any jury verdict will be mitigated if a jury doesn’t ever hear about all the laws the driver and motor carrier violated.

Smart defense lawyers in trucking cases are bringing these motions because in many cases, they’re winning them.

But chances are, they shouldn’t.  The case law and public policy is on the victim’s side in most states.

Typically, the attorney representing the trucking company will make at least one of the following arguments (and I’ve been on the receiving end of all of them):

  1. Vicarious liability claims and direct negligence claims against the company are duplicative;
  2. In states without punitive damages, a motor carrier cannot be held accountable beyond the scope of compensatory damages;
  3. Direct negligence claims against the trucking company cannot expand the plaintiff’s damages;
  4. Allowing the direct negligence claim against the truck company would permit unfairly prejudicial evidence (namely, of the driver’s prior bad acts) to be presented to the jury; and
  5. Many courts have dismissed the direct negligent claims when the truck company admits that it is vicariously liable for its driver’s negligence.

These arguments should not fly.

In some jurisdictions, the courts have chosen to go this route and will strike direct negligence claims against the trucking company. However, most jurisdictions actually allow concurrent claims against the truck driver who caused a truck accident and the trucking company who put him on the road.

In fact, there are cases (which are still good law) in Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, and Connecticut which all support claims against a truck driver for causing a truck accident and also a direct negligence claim against the trucking company.

I will discuss these arguments further in further posts.

Related information:

Truck lawyer tip: Pleading punitive damages in your complaint


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About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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